The founder of Skagway, Alaska, Captain William Moore, began cutting planks of wood in 1897 to construct the Red Onion Saloon. It opened for business in 1898. Visitors were served alcohol on the first floor while the second floor quenched another type of thirst. The brothel consisted ten cubicles, ten foot by ten foot, known as cribs. Each came with three exits and a hole in the floor connected to the cash register with copper tubing. In order to keep track of which girls were busy, the bartender kept ten dolls on the back bar, representing each girl. A customer would choose a girl and her doll was laid on its back to show she was “busy”. It was returned to an upright position after money (usually $5) was sent down the tube.
By 1899, business began to suffer. Most of the ladies moved north to be closer to gold fields and big gaming halls. When the railroad became the center of town, many buildings moved closer to the depot. The Red Onion made its big move from Sixth and State to Broadway in 1914. Only one horse was used to drag it but a miscalculation caused the front and the back of the building to be removed and switched.
During World War II, the building served as U.S. army barracks. It also housed a laundry, bakery, union hall, television station and gift shop. In 1980, Jan Wrentmore reverted it back to its saloon days, turning the second floor in to a brothel museum. Many items on display were found in the brothel.
The most well known resident ghost at the Red Onion Saloon is “Lydia”, one of the former madams. She is often seen watering the plants and likes to slightly push male employees and visitors. However, some believe there may be more than one roaming around the building. There are reports of footsteps on the 2nd floor, the smell of perfume, female voices, shadow, and cold spots.
For more information, visit their website at http://redonion1898.com.